I have a client who wanted a dealer locator added to a Zen Cart site. They weren’t able to locate a Zen Cart extension that met their requirements, so they asked me to build one from scratch.
Their specifications for the dealer locator were as follows:
The dealer locator must blend in with their current Zen Cart template.
The dealer locator must display dealers within the United States as well as Canada.
Users must be able to find dealers either by zip code or city and state.
Users must be able to quickly map the location of the dealers.
This is one of those times when it’s good to have a programmer building your web site instead of a web designer without a programming background.
The client had quite a few dealers in the United States, though they currently only have one in Canada. It would have been impractical to build a static page listing all of them, so I went with a database-driven form using jQuery and AJAX to make the form function smoothly for users.
Users are able to select a range within which to search by zip code, or they can search for all dealers in a given city and state. The output includes a link to the Google Maps listing for the dealers’ addresses.
You can see the solution I came up with in action on Q-Logic Direct.
One of my clients asked me to quickly set up a site for car stereo clearance sales that could be handed over to his employees for management. Essentially, he wanted a user-friendly ecommerce site with a professional look at minimum cost.
I considered various options, but at present the way to go for him was clearly a combination of Joomla! and Virtuemart. Zen Cart would have taken longer to set up–and cost more–and Virtuemart is much more user-friendly. Joomla! also has good template support for a custom theme that would be inexpensive and stable.
These days, there isn’t a better option to quickly create a user-friendly professional-looking ecommerce site than Joomla! and Virtuemart.
I had a client approach me with what has become a common request of late. He wanted an ecommerce site for a set of products he was developing, but his budget didn’t allow for a web developer long-term; he wanted his employees to take the reins once the site was built and configured, using me only for keeping the site platform up-to-date and dealing with any issues that might come up.
The result was Tactical Storage. I built the site using Joomla!, Virtuemart, and a commercial template from RocketTheme, then handed it off to his employees to add content and products.
ByLanderSea is a WordPress-based blog-style site that I “inherited.” I met Debi Lander, the author of ByLanderSea, through my work with BCT Publishing and Automotive Traveler, for whom she occasionally acts as a contributing author of travel and automotive articles.
I include it here not only because the site has some great articles, but because the site uses a custom theme for WordPress. Most of my clients don’t choose to spend much on developing a site cosmetically, and are satisfied with a few changes to one of WordPress’ default themes. There are definitely good reasons to use a customized WordPress default theme (child theme), and I review those advantages with every client I build a WordPress-based site for, but sometimes, a client wants something in particular that a custom theme can give them.
If you decide to have me build your site, I’ll certainly review the pros and cons of a custom theme for WordPress–or any other open-source software–with you before you commit to the expense. I just want to make sure you know that the limits on customizing a theme, or using a custom theme, are only a matter of how much of your web development budget you want to commit to it.
This site also required the import of a number of blog entries from a Blogspot account. Blogspot is based on WordPress, and it is possible to export from Blogspot, then import into WordPress. If the Blogspot posts are complex, it can be a challenge, but it is possible for those who find the freedom and greater customization possibilities of having their own WordPress installation preferable to the simplicity of Blogspot.
This month, I was asked to migrate an ecommerce site to a new host, a new platform, and to split the site into ecommerce and blog sections, each on a separate hosting account and domain. This time, the client chose the template for both Zen Cart (my recommendation for the ecommerce side) and WordPress (the client’s choice for the blogging platform).
The main challenge to this job was the complexity of the organization of categories and products in the ecommerce section of the site. In order to populate the many categories, I wrote a series of PHP-based utilities. The images including watermarks and resizing to accommodate Zen Cart’s requirement for multiple image sizes were built using local Bash scripts and Imagemagick. Although the client had to pay for my time to produce the PHP utilites and the image processing scripts, they enjoyed a substantial net savings over having to use their employees’ time or mine to populate the store with their products.
Sometimes, it’s good to be a programmer.
The other programming project for Q-Logic involved producing a new application guide for them from the Zen Cart database of their products so they wouldn’t have to manually create one each time there was a product change. I used PHP, MySQL, and PDF to create the application guide which updates once a day via a cron job on the server and can be downloaded on the site.